Running Windows on Your Macbook

While OS X is a great operating system, there may be cases where you want to install Windows on your Macbook Pro or Macbook Air laptops. There are two primary ways of doing this: Bootcamp, and running in a virtual machine.

There are a couple of differences between the two methods and each has their own advantages. Running Windows in Bootcamp is just like having a Windows laptop. Windows will run natively and quickly, and Windows has access to all of your computer’s RAM and processor.

Running Windows on Your Macbook

A virtual machine allows you to run Windows at the same time as Mac OS X. It’s like having Windows running as an application on your Mac computer. However, this also requires that your Mac shares processing power and RAM with the running Windows instance, and therefore Windows (and Mac OS X) will run slower than if using Bootcamp.

Note, that no matter what method you use to install Windows, you will need a valid Windows license.

Using Bootcamp

Bootcamp, made by Apple, is a way for users to run Windows natively on your Mac. This allows for your Mac to essentially become a Windows PC. It is free and relatively easy to setup.

Apple has a great setup guide (for the Macbook Air 2010, but the same instructions apply for all machines), so I won’t go over it here. But there are a couple of things you need to know.

First, when you setup Bootcamp, you are required to allocate a certain portion of your hard drive to Windows. This generally cannot be changed later without a lot of work, so pick an amount of space that is adequate for your uses. If you are installing games, which can take around 4-12 GB each, you will need to allocate more space. If you are just installing Microsoft office, you will be fine with less space.

Generally, you should allocate a minimum of 14-16 GB of space just to install Windows. You’ll need more for installing programs.

With Bootcamp, you don’t even have to allocate processing power or RAM since Windows is the only OS running. It’ll automatically use all of your processor and RAM available, as long as you choose the right version of Windows (for 4 GB of RAM or more, use 64 bit Windows).

Using a Virtual Machine

There are several software packages for running a virtual machine with Windows on Mac OS X.

– Parallels Desktop
– VMWare Fusion
– VirtualBox (Free)

Each of the products has their differences and unique features. One important distinction between VirtualBox and the paid products is that VirtualBox does not have a mode in which Windows applications run alongside of Mac OS X apps. Parallels Desktop has Coherence, while VMWare Fusion has Unity. Essentially, they are the exact same thing and work almost identically.

Performance between the two has been flipping back and forth throughout the generations of the product, but at this point in time, it appears that Parallels 8 is slightly faster then VMWare Fusion 5. Of course, it also costs more, but in this case you are paying for the performance. Personally, I use Parallels, but I also got it during a sale. It’s also worth noting that new Macs from MacMall come with Parallels 7 for free (after mail in rebate, also note that it’s Parallels 7, not the newest version).

After installing one of the applications above, proceed to go through the installation wizards present in them. Generally, the app will guide you through the installation of Windows.

How Much Hard Drive Space Should I Allocate?

Unlike Bootcamp, these virtualization apps allow you to allocate a certain maximum hard drive size to Windows. The actual space this “virtual hard drive” takes up will only be what is used. That means, while Windows may see it has 50 GB of space, after a fresh install the virtual hard drive file on your Mac will only be around 15 GB.

How Much of my Processor and RAM Should I Allocate?

As for RAM and processing power allocation– you should generally never allocate all of your processor or all of your RAM to the virtual machine or Mac OS X will slow to a crawl. However, you also need to allocate enough power that Windows doesn’t slow down.

If you have a dual core Mac, try allocating a single CPU core to the virtual machine. Quad core Macbook Pro laptops can allocate more than this (generally two cores).

You should allocate a bare minimum of 1 GB of RAM to Windows. If you have 4 GB of RAM, you probably will be able to allocate 2 GB of RAM to the virtual machine with no problems, but note that you will not be able to open a lot of stuff on the Mac OS X side of things.

If you have 8 GB of RAM, you will definitely be able to allocate at least 4 GB of RAM to the virtual machine with no problems, since Mac OS X can comfortably operate in the remaining 4 GB. If you have more than 8 GB of RAM (or even with 8 GB of RAM), you can even run multiple virtual machines at once if your computer has the power.

All of these guidelines are general suggestions. Experiment to see what works for you. But remember, you cannot change processor and RAM allocations while the VM is running– only when it has been shutdown.


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